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News release from: NCC Washington Update, Vol 5, #36, October 12, 1999 by Page Putnam Miller, Director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History <firstname.lastname@example.org> Release of Alger Hiss Grand Jury Records - Public Citizen held a press conference on October 12 to announce the release of 4,200 pages of transcripts of grand jury records in the espionage case of Alger Hiss. On December 15, 1998, the 50th anniversary of Hiss' indictment, Public Citizen Litigation Group filed a lawsuit on behalf of American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Society for Legal History. Judge Peter K. Leisure of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in May in favor of the plaintiffs, noting the records will fill important gaps in the historical records and should not remain behind locked doors any longer. Since the government decided not to appeal the case, the records were opened on October 12 and are available to the public at the National Archives building in College Park, Maryland, and at the Northeast Regional Archives in New York City. David Vladeck, the Director of Public Citizen Litigation Group, noted at the press conference that researchers who have sought to tell the story of the Cold War's most celebrated perjury trial have been, until now, denied access to the grand jury transcripts of the case. Stressing the significance of this case, Vladeck pointed out that the allegations against Hiss convinced many Americans that the threat of Soviet subversion was real and helped catapult the career of the then obscure Congressman from California, Richard Nixon. Arnita Jones, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, emphasized the groundbreaking aspect of this case, stating that historians have long believed that in historically important grand jury cases that secrecy should diminish with time. However, she stressed that grand jury records should be opened only in very exceptional cases where there is broad public and researcher interest in the issues, where the records are very old, and where there are no outstanding privacy issues. "The Alger Hiss case" she said, "falls squarely within these parameters." Public Citizen brought together for the press conference four historians who reviewed the documents and came away with varying interpretations but none believed the documents ultimately proved or disprove the guilt of Hiss, who continued to profess his innocence until his death in 1996. Historian Bruce Craig, who played a key role in gathering background material for this case, commented at some length on Nixon's testimony, describing it as "clever, nuanced and at times spellbinding," and asserted that it will be remembered as the most important and successful speech of his career prior to his famed "Checkers' speech." Sam Tanenhaus, author of a prize winning biography of Whittaker Chambers, Hiss' main accuser, applauded the opening of these records for, he said, they will help researchers to deal with the question of how did we get from congressional testimony to an indictment of Hiss. History professors Anna Kasten Nelson of American University and Athan Theoharis of Marquette University also participated in the press conference. Additionally, Tony Hiss, Alger Hiss' son, spoke and stressed that while these records do not contain a "smoking gun," they do contain a "shining light" that adds many new details and gives us an opportunity to hear, in their own words, from the 80 witnesses in the case.